Anticipation of Pain

I have a wonderful dentist.  After losing a filling recently, he squeezed in an early morning appointment to accommodate me.  As I sat in the chair, he offered to to work on my tooth without Novocain.  My decision was quick and easy.  Of course, I would choose some minor discomfort in the short term if I could avoid a saggy mouth all morning.  He was quick to reassure me that it shouldn’t be necessary.  So we go.

 Now, there are few noises in the world worse than a dentist’s drill.  Combine the whistling whir of the drill with the grinding vibration in my head and alarm bells start ringing.  I cannot help but think, “wait a minute, this isn’t right.”  Memory plays a role here.  I remember what its like when the dentist strikes a nerve.  I can feel that sharp pain beginning deep within my tooth, reaching out to my whole head and shooting its way down to my toes.  I can’t deal with that!  As I am thinking, he quickly pulls back from his work and asks, “did you feel that.”  Well,  “no,” I respond.  “I didn’t feel that, but I thought I was going to.”  You see, my experience was pain free, physically.  Mentally, however I was able to create a scenario that involved pain.  And, my body reacted as if it was real.  The dentist could read it on my face.

 I wonder how much good work goes undone because we anticipate pain?  This is certainly true of exercise.  Our minds race ahead thinking of how it feels to be out of breath, struggling to keep up.  The only sane thing to do is not to do it, right?   This is exactly the thing that keeps us from it.  You see, our minds have committed, sort of.  I know what’s best for me and that is what I want to do.  I might even write a goal about it.  As soon as I decide it, however, my mind tricks me, evoking images of every potentially painful outcome.  The anticipation of all those bad things, keeps me from it.  Period.  This is true of all of our goals.  Too often ,we give up before we start in anticipation of pain.

 So how is it that we lean into our goals knowing that pain will be an issue?  Just like I did with the dentist.  I took a long term view.  I knew that enduring a few minutes (even a morning with a saggy mouth) was better than losing my teeth.  It was the long term benefit that conquered my short term discomfort.    In fact, once we start, we will realize that there is no pain at all.  The pain, in fact, will be replaced with joy.

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